Almost everyone has a beloved cheap meal from the days of childhood, scraping by in college or while bills constantly towered over paychecks. People share the bargain basement meals that still top their list of favorite foods.
Boxed Mac & Cheese
It’s comfort food and a blast from the past, all contained in one little cardboard box. You knew you’d made it when you could afford to add a little ground beef or a sliced hot dog into the cheesy mix. It may have been a necessity in years past, but it stands firmly on the go-to delicious dinner list.
High-end Ramen restaurants dot the food scene these days. But back in the day, no one would have imagined adding high-quality meats, veggies, and eggs to the lowly bowl of Ramen. At the time, you’d only needed a dime and a couple of cups of water to feast on that brothy, filling bunch of noodles. The water was optional; some people ate the noodles straight out of the package, sprinkling the flavor packet directly into their mouths!
Peanut Butter & Jelly
A slather of peanut butter and a few dabs of jelly (grape or strawberry) spread on bread from the cheapest loaf you can find, and you’ve got a classic American sandwich. The PB&J is still a popular go-to sandwich, and when you have a little more cash, you can afford to cut off the crusts. So decadent.
It’s difficult to find a better self-contained package of delicious protein for the price. Hard-boiled, over-easy, or fried, the humble egg can’t be beaten. (Unless you’re making a scramble)
Taco Bell $1 Tacos
No matter the tax bracket you find yourself in, you know you’re still in the drive-through line at Taco Bell when the craving for a cheap fiesta in your mouth strikes. The entire $1 menu is a treasure trove of heavy-duty foods on the cheap. Go ahead and splurge on four or five items at a time! It still won’t break the bank.
A baking potato cooked for seven to ten minutes in the microwave made a meal for about a buck. No matter how large the grocery budget…, most people will never give up their favorite starchy foods. The beauty of the potato is that it serves as the firm foundation to bulk up any leftovers.
Rice & Noodles
Like potatoes, other popular starches, including rice and noodles, cost pennies on the pound. Top cheap carbs with whatever veggies, sauces, or meat morsels you have on hand, and you’ve got yourself a bowl full of satisfaction.
You’ve come a long way, baby! It started with the most basic of basics. Unwrap a piece or two of that bright yellow American cheese and place between a couple of pieces of white bread, and dinner is solved!
The beauty of the grilled cheese is it’s just as filling and comforting now, but you can splurge a bit on a better grade of bread and cheese!
Mini Corn Dogs
These tiny dogs wrapped completely in a thick layer of cornmeal batter could ease any hunger pains. The breading adds quite a bit of bulk to those little hot dogs. Really, they’re cocktail sausages. Does that mean while we were poor, we were tipping toward fancy?
These versatile little rolls of heaven could generally be found at the corner convenience store or in bulk at Walmart or Costco (if you were one of the few who could afford a wholesale store membership)
Our bank accounts and tastebuds never outgrew the taquitos. They’re are a junk food fallback that’s not losing popularity anytime soon. Wrapped around cheese, chicken, or beans, the fried shell is the perfect food delivery system.
Like regular pizza but the thickest crust around when you put your pizza toppings on a bagel. Half a can of plain tomato sauce lets you have pizza bagels one night, then noodles and red sauce the next. (That fancy basil and garlic pasta sauce was too far out of reach back then).
Pinto beans cooked with some salt pork straight out of the can in a tomato sauce or black beans over rice beans are inexpensive and a great protein when meat and dairy are out of the question. They used to be a necessity to tide us over from paycheck to paycheck. They’re still on the grocery list as an easy side or even the main course. Cool beans!
Remembering how little it took to fill up cheaply remains a badge of honor for many who struggled in the past. The struggle was real!
Those throwback foods are comfort foods people are not going to leave behind, no matter what the budget may allow.
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